bethbethbeth: (HP Beholder (femmequixotic))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
Recipient: teshara
Author: [profile] l_c_darius
Title: In December as in May
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Mr. Ollivander/Merope Gaunt, Tom Riddle/Merope Gaunt
Word Count: 12.930
Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): * None.*
Summary: Captivity leads Ollivander to re-examine the choices he’s made.
Author Notes: Thanks to bethbethbeth for organizing and modding this wonderful exchange and to teshara for giving me the chance to play around with characters I hadn’t given much thought to before. Enjoy!




Ollivander sat in a cold, dank cellar that smelt of mold and stale wine while the world fell apart around him. It was ironic, really. Had he been out in the world surely he too would have fallen apart along with it: war was no place for tired, old men. But he was not out in the world. He was captured, by Death Eaters no less.

Had he known in the weeks leading up to his abduction what his future held, he doubted that he could have conceived of many things more frightening or dangerous. Life in Diagon Alley had certainly become treacherous enough and the threat of bodily harm loomed large, but even then it was only ever a threat. Capture, he would have thought, brought with it the certainty of torture, the distinct possibility of death, and the added terror of coming face-to-face with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Capture had indeed brought all of those things to Ollivander, but it had included with it an unforeseen bonus. Most days, he was left alone. Only when the Dark Lord was in the worst of moods did he drag Ollivander up from the cellars. In the meantime, the wandmaker was safe. He was fed, he was housed, there was little chance that he was going to be killed or dragged into the ministry or whatever else they were doing these days - Ollivander had very little idea, as his access to news was limited to the snippets of conversation that drifted down to him through the floorboards.

Intellectually, at least, Ollivander was aware that he was alright. He wouldn’t go nearly so far as to say he liked it where he was, but things could be far worse for him. It became hard to maintain his tentative mental grasp on that concept on days like this, however. His body ached all over, a complex, multifaceted bundle of pain that he knew would linger. There was the deep, gritty echo of arthritis in his bones, the throbbing tenderness in his muscles and scalp from having been yanked up the stone steps of the cellar, and there, dancing along just beneath the surface of his skin, the bubbling, pricking remnants of the Cruciatus Curse. The last was the worst, Ollivander thought. Every so often the prickles made his leg or arm twitch unexpectedly and the rest of his body would howl in protest.

It wasn’t that Ollivander wouldn’t give the Dark Lord the information He sought. As terrible as it might have been to say, Ollivander had few loyalties left in this war. He had been alive long enough to know that people, all people, could do terrible things. The Dark Lord wanted to kill Muggles and that was all well and bad, but the Muggles had certainly gone on wizard-killing pogroms more times than even Ollivander could recount. In the end someone was going to wind up killing someone else and as long as it wasn’t going to be him, Ollivander had lost the will to care.

Politics had never appealed to him in the least and he hadn’t voted in an election in his life - he made a point of that. That had always been Ollivander’s problem. If he wasn’t entirely intrigued by something, he couldn’t be bothered with it. Even more than that, when something did intrigue him, it took him over, possessed him until he could think of or do little else.

That was the way it was with wandlore. The unique, innate sort of magic needed for both wandmaking and wand use was perhaps the least understood part of the wizarding world. If Ollivander was correct in his thinking, though, it underpinned everything, a sort of constant background noise sending filaments of magic out into the world to interact and react with whatever else they found. He often wondered what the world would be like if one could see magic itself. He had heard Gregorovitch claim once that as wandmakers that was what they did, but Ollivander didn’t buy into that idea. His wands were, in a sense, expressions of his own magic rather than anyone else’s. What else could they be? He had made them and what magic had he but his own? Ollivander had no qualms accepting that there were things that existed around him, things that happened once he made a wand that he could not understand or control or even detect. To think otherwise was the highest form of arrogance, which of course was something Gregorovitch had in excess, if you asked Ollivander.

With that being said, though, Ollivander’s wands did things that he couldn’t even begin to understand. In the hands of their owners, they became more than they were sitting haphazardly on the warped wooden shelves in his store. Harry Potter’s wand had lain in its box next to the Dark Lord’s for nearly a decade and on its own for nearly six and there had been nothing terribly interesting about it to indicate its destiny. Both wands had held special significance for Ollivander, this was true, but not for any reason the he thought would interest the Dark Lord. Those circumstances had little to do with the phenomena Ollivander suspected were due to the wands’ twin cores.

The old man slumped against the wall and sighed. He let his eyelids fall shut.

In his mind’s eye, he stood in the back room of his shop. Ollivander had always been blessed with an exceedingly good memory. He could remember nearly everything he had ever seen, every wand he had ever made, every page of every book he had read, every scene of every Muggle movie he’d snuck into on summer breaks from Hogwarts. Sometimes it made his head feel overly full and he had long since begun keeping the things he allowed himself to see to a minimum.

It had become a useful ability of late, though. By simply visualizing, he could research without a book in sight. His inner self walked past the rows of shelves towering with wands to the area where he kept his books. He hesitated only a moment before pulling a promising-looking volume from the shelf and opened it. Pages of words streamed through his mind, all of them fascinating but none of them helpful. His mental self shut the book and replaced it on the shelf.

He opened his eyes to find Miss Lovegood watching him. She did that rather often and Ollivander wasn’t terribly certain what to make of it. He had been told often enough that he made people uncomfortable but the way her large eyes followed him made it feel as though she could see inside his head.

“What were you reading today?”

Ollivander let his head loll to the side and tugged at a fistful of white hair. “Arachne Weatherwax’s Compendium of Core Magic. First edition.”

“That does sound promising.”

“It was less so that I had hoped. Absolutely nothing about core interactions. There is a gaping hole in the literature. It’s a wonder no one has noticed it before. Although I expect this is something of a unique situation.”

Luna nodded knowingly. Ollivander appreciated that. He had known from the very first time he met her that she was insightful. Willow and dragon heartstring, eight and five-eighths inches, an odd sort of combination, one that Ollivander had been surprised to have found a match. It had seemed a sturdy, stalwart wand for such a wisp of a girl at the time, but Ollivander now knew that Miss Lovegood was far from wispy.

“I’m sure you’ll find something soon,” she reassured, getting to her feet. “They brought food while you were reading. It’s just bread and some water, but at least there aren’t any navel moths today.”

Ollivander frowned. “Navel moths?”

“Navuncular navel moths. They’re quite small. One flew in when they brought dinner yesterday.”

“Has it taken up residence in someone’s navel?” Ollivander was never quite sure whether to believe Miss Lovegood’s ramblings or not, but as time passed he was becoming more inclined to do so.

“Oh, they don’t really do that,” she said matter-of-factly. “At least Daddy says they don’t. He says that Newt Scamander just made that up, but I can’t think why he should have wanted to. He’s always seemed honest to me.”

She brought Ollivander a plate with a few slices of bread and a small cup of water. Ollivander couldn’t help but smirk at the pretentious china. He had no doubt that it was the worst of the Malfoy family’s dishes, but it was still a great deal nicer than anything he had ever eaten from. The cup, too, was a heavy, carved glass thing that would have been more at home in a fancy hotel than here.

The water was cold and made Ollivander cough convulsively as he swallowed. What he wouldn’t have given for a hot cup of tea, maybe some milk, a couple lumps of sugar… Or perhaps some honey…

“I thought it was a bit chilly also,” Luna sighed, sitting next to Ollivander again. “Griphook quite liked it but I think it would be very civil of them to give us something a bit warmer now that the weather’s changed. But I suppose they aren’t looking to be civil, are they?”

“I doubt it. The bread isn’t dry, which is certainly a mark in its favor.”
Luna quirked the corner of her mouth up. “What makes Harry’s wand so special?”

Ollivander sighed. He supposed that talking the situation through might help him work things out.

“Have you any idea, my dear, what happens when one uses a wand that was made for someone else?”

“It’s not supposed to work as well, is it?”

Cocking his head, Ollivander nodded slightly. “That is what happens when one uses a wand that belongs to another wizard. A wand specially made for someone is a beautiful thing. It takes a particularly intimate relationship to do properly. A specially made wand is one that is perfectly aligned with a wizard,” he shrugged, “or witch’s magic. It is in harmony. It will do any number of things for a wizard who is not its master but working properly is not one of them.”

Luna pulled her knees up to her chest. “I don’t understand. You-Know-Who’s wand works. So does Harry’s. He makes a lovely patronus with it. A great big stag. Mine’s a rabbit, you know.”

“I am afraid I do not understand either. The Dark Lord’s wand was made for another. That he can work such impressive magic is surprising to say the least.”

“Was Harry’s wand made for someone else then?”

There was a tightening in Ollivander’s chest, a dull tugging that had little to do with his arthritis or the Cruciatus Curse. “No, Mr. Potter’s wand is his own. It simply has a brother.”

“Wands can’t help who they’re related to, I suppose,” Luna said knowingly.

“Nor can people. And yet it does make all the difference, does it not?”

Luna turned to him, an oddly hard expression on her face. “Must it?”

Ollivander shrugged. “In my experience, yes.”

She fell quiet and Ollivander wondered idly whether he had said something to offend her. Her typically ethereal air seemed deflated and Ollivander was surprised to find that he cared. With a fair amount of difficulty, he raised his hand and let it rest on her shoulder.

“Whom we are related to matters very much to the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean it should make us who we are, though. There are a great number of wonderful people with less-than-reputable relations.”

She sighed and smiled, still a touch downtrodden, but, Ollivander thought, comforted.

“Who did you make You-Know-Who’s wand for, then?”

Ollivander paused, his cup of water halfway to his mouth, and licked his lips. He supposed he should have expected the question but it had caught him off guard. Quickly, he glanced again at Miss Lovegood. She was watching him again, damn her. He clenched his jaw and looked away.

“A woman. Quite a long time ago.”

“It’s a very personal gesture, isn’t it, making someone a wand? You must have loved her very much.”

Had he? Ollivander had never been certain on that point. It had been such a brief time, such a complicated situation. Had either of them loved the other? If he were to be truly honest with himself, he supposed he had. A very imperfect sort of love, perhaps, for they had both been terribly imperfect people.

“I believe I did. It was not meant to be.”

“Oooh,” Luna cooed, “a tragic romance, star-crossed lovers and all that?”

Ollivander marveled at how easily he forgot that she was still very much a child. At times like this it was painfully obvious.

“It was a fair bit less dramatic than I am sure your imagination would like it to have been. It was simply a matter of us being ill-suited and ill-timed.”

“She didn’t love you?”

Ollivander paused to think before answering. Discussing his personal life was something he was far from accustomed to doing, partly because it had been so many years since he had had a personal life to begin with. Even now, he wasn’t entirely comfortable doing so, but Miss Lovegood had been so very accommodating in discussing wandlore with him. The least he could do was be honest with her. She was, after all, a teenage girl without any companions with whom to gossip.

“I have never been certain. I like to think that she did. The difficulty lay in the fact that she loved someone else more.” Ollivander frowned. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m not to be pitied. It was decades ago. I am not about to burst into raucous tears like one of your dorm-mates.”

Luna smiled sheepishly. “I’m glad. I have always thought they’re rather silly when they do that. It would be even sillier coming from you.”

“I cannot agree more.”

She made a funny little noise, somewhere between a laugh and a sigh and dropped her knees to the side, tucking her feet beneath herself.

“What’s it like, being in love?”

“I am not certain that I can tell you that. It was so very long ago. You’ll find out one day, I expect.”

Luna shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I’m quite peculiar. I don’t really mind either way, of course. I am curious, though. I do love hearing other people’s love stories. You can tell so much about a person that way.”

“And you want to know more about me?”

“Well of course. We are friends, you know.”

Friends. Ollivander had not had a friend in…as long as he could remember. He found that he rather liked the idea.

“Indeed. What would you like to know?”

Curling in on herself, Luna crossed her arms. “Only everything.”

***


The few pedestrians that have braved the weather scurry quickly down Diagon Alley, barely taking the time to avoid the large puddles that have collected in the cobblestone street. Why would they bother when a simple cleaning spell will put them right again once they’re out of the miserable weather.

Lightning shoots through the grey sky, a clap of thunder following closely after. It has been doing so all afternoon, an unseasonably warm Thursday in December, in the strange lull between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.

It is perfect coring weather.

Ollivander stands in the back room of his father’s - no, his own shop. He is Ollivander the Wandmaker now, not his father. It is still a novel concept to the young man; he is no longer an apprentice. It is a development which, perhaps, occurred slightly before it should have but was a necessary one. The wound of the old man’s passing does not sting the way Ollivander believes it should, but then they have never been close.

The gears and cogs of the corer whirr and grind against one another, a mechanical buzzing filling the heavy air. The air itself is charged from the storm and Ollivander’s magic sparks as he guides the wood through the drill bit. The sparks prick at his fingers, but he built up calluses against this long ago and the rough tips of his fingers are unharmed, unfeeling.

The sound of the rain and the hum of the machinery and the gentle tinkling of his magic are rhythmic and Ollivander loses himself in the harmony of it all. This newest batch of yew is superb, sliding through the machine with little resistance, as though the wand has been lurking just below the surface of the branch. This is the first wand he has made with it, a test, and he thinks he will save the remainder. He hasn’t any cores worthy of wood of this caliber at the moment.

As he finishes the wand, he sighs heavily, wiping his shirtsleeve across his forehead. He holds the wood up to his eye, looking down the groove he has made. It is perfect.

He pushes his coring goggles up onto his brow and runs his fingers through his wild brown hair. It sticks up at angles from the combination of the humidity, the electricity and the goggles and he suspects that he looks something like a mad scientist. Catching a glimpse of himself in a mirror, he confirms his suspicion, frowning slightly at the grey that has begun to creep in prematurely. He’s barely even twenty-six yet: it hardly seems fair. But Ollivander isn’t a vain man and lets the thought go almost as soon as he’s moved away from the mirror.

Checking his watch, he realizes that it is past lunch time and that he is hungry. He fishes out from the pocket of his coat the brown paper sack he’s brought his lunch in and takes it up to the front of the store with his inventory sheets and Bathilda Bagshot’s new treatise on the Goblin Wars. There is paperwork to be done, but Ollivander’s never had a taste for such things. A bit of light reading, he hopes, will serve as a reward.

The spindly stool behind the front counter wobbles a bit as he sits on it, and Ollivander makes a mental note to lengthen one of the legs. He’s been meaning to for weeks now but hasn’t managed to get around to it. Much as he loves making wands, spellwork is tedious. It’s always seemed a bit ironic to him that wand-making is a wandless art.

He shrugs and empties the contents of his paper sack onto the countertop. His apple rolls away and Ollivander lets it, knowing the cash register will keep it from going far. He anchors the bag with a wedge of cheese and balances the cheese with a small loaf of bread. The pickle spear he unwraps and sniffs appreciatively, then sets aside. It is his favourite part of lunch so he’ll save it for last. Besides, it wouldn’t do at all to have brine all over his inventory.

Laying the inventory out across the counter, he reaches blindly for a quill and takes a bite of bread, crumbs tumbling down his shirt as he does so.

It’s then that he hears a strange, soft sound and looks up. To his surprise, he finds that someone is looking back.

It is a woman, a girl perhaps. She seems to Ollivander to be in that awkward stage somewhere between the two.

“How long have you been there?” he asks, a bit more roughly that he had intended.

She flinches and shrinks back from him, a hank of her hair falling in front of her face. One of her eyes is trained on him from behind her hair, the other ever so slightly not. Quietly, she begins murmuring what Ollivander assumes are apologies and backs away from him.

“There’s no need for all that. You startled me is all.” He watches her for a moment before realizing that she is quite probably a customer and that customers should be helped rather than gawked at. “Was there something I could do for you?”

“A wand,” she says quietly. “Mine’s a bit damaged, you see.”

“How damaged?”

She fidgets for a moment before pulling what Ollivander originally takes to be a long branch from her sleeve. He is beginning to think this woman is entirely mad, coming in here with a twig instead of a proper wand but then she hands the wood over to him and he sees the bit of unicorn hair glinting from a worn patch on the side.

Ollivander gives the wand a short flick and drops it immediately. His hand is burned where it touched the unicorn hair.

“That is problematic. You’ve done right bringing it here. It isn’t one of ours, is it?” he asks, doubting it highly.

She shakes her head. “My dad, he made it. One for me, one for my brother.”

Ollivander ‘hmms’ in the back of his throat. He pulls a measuring tape from the depths of one of his pockets and sets to work on the wand, taking every dimension he can think to.

“It’s rather crude. Coring’s all wonky, that’s why it’s shown through. I can patch it if you’d like, but I’d recommend going with a sleeker model.”

She bites her lip and frowns. “ ‘s more expensive to buy new, isn’t it?”

He shrugs his concession. “It’ll work better though, last you longer.”

“No.” She shakes her head. “Can’t afford that. How much for just a repair?” He thinks a moment and quotes her a price. “Can’t do that either. Sorry for the trouble.”

She stands before him for a moment before hesitantly reaching for her wand. Ollivander places his hand over it before she can take it and she jolts backwards, pulling her hands to her chest, watching him like a skittish pony.

“I’m sure we could work something out,” he offers. The woman eyes him warily. “We could put you on a payment plan. A few galleons out of every paycheck until it’s paid.”

“No job.”

Ollivander is getting exasperated. It’s almost as though she doesn’t want his help at all and that puzzles him. She came to him, after all. Shouldn’t she be the one proposing alternative solutions? He can’t bring himself to turn her away, though. Something about her tugs at him, makes him want to help. He glances down at the inventory before him and brushes a few bread crumbs off, an idea forming in his mind.

“You can read, can’t you?”

She nods enthusiastically.

“How would you like a job? I have quite a lot of paperwork and filing and I…well, to be honest, I can’t stand doing it. Pay off the wand repair, and if it’s working out you can stay as long as you like.”

She twists her hair between her fingers and chews the inside of her lip as she considers. Ollivander finds himself half hoping that she won’t accept, it’s such an impulsive move. They’ve never had someone work in the store before. A bit of company might be nice, but he doesn’t know her at all, doesn’t even know her name and she’s hardly the sort to attract customers.

“Yeah, that sounds nice. I’m quite handy, really I am.” She smiles at Ollivander and shyly holds out a hand.

The cacophony of voices in his head all debating whether he’s made a mistake in asking fall silent and he stands gaping at her. “Sorry, what?”

Her eyes go wide and her hand drops to her side.

“I’ll take the job?” she says uncertainly.

“Oh, yes. Well, lovely.” He offers her his hand then retracts it quickly to wipe crumbs from his palm before extending it again. Her fingers are delicate, fragile within his, yet callused within his as they shake. “Ollivander.”

“Merope Gaunt. Er, Riddle, that is. I’ve just gotten married, you see. All a bit new, still.”

“Yes, well, congratulations and all that. Let me look at you.”

It could be worse, Ollivander supposes, but it doesn’t exactly present the sort of image he’s looking for. Despite her round face, she looks pinched and nervous, as though she’s been stretched longer than is entirely natural. Ollivander knows little of Muggle fashions, but he suspects that’s what she’s wearing. The jacket and skirt look new, but ill-fitting, giving her the appearance of a child in her mother’s clothing.

“Have you got any robes?” he asks.

She shakes her head in denial.

“That won’t do at all.” He rummages in the register and retrieves the emergency sack of galleons he keeps behind the cash drawer. “Madam Malkin’s just ‘round the corner. Tell her I sent you and she’ll get you fixed up with some things. She’s a bit crotchety but her daughter’s likely to be there. Holiday from Hogwarts. You’ll start tomorrow if that’s all right. Bring the wand with you and we’ll see what we can do.”

He passes the splintery wood back to her and, after an awkward moment, she thanks him, or at least he thinks that is what her nod and small smile mean. “Tomorrow’s fine. The shop’s just…?”

She points uncertainly to her right and cocks her head.

Ollivander gets up from his stool and walks her to the front door. The rain is still falling heavily but he can just make out the bright pink awning of the store through the greyness. He points at it with one long, steady finger and Merope nods. The sack of galleons clinks as she shifts it in her hands, coins clanging together dully.

They are at the door now, so she pushes it open, a blast of the abnormally warm air ruffling Ollivander’s robes. He watches her go, shocked at how, even as he watches her, she disappears into the drabness of the scenery. But he does keep watching and he can’t quite explain why. She’s certainly nothing to look at, yet he finds that he does want to look, can’t stop looking, even. She makes no sense to him and he wonders whether, if he stands and stares at her for long enough she will suddenly coalesce into something he can decipher. Perhaps then he will notice something worth seeing.

In his reverie, he has lost sight of her, though. He presumes that she has disappeared into Xanthia’s shop and he is several bites into his lump of cheese before it occurs to him that she might not return.

He rubs his brow. He’s not at all cut out for this line of work. Less than a month in charge and he’s gone and given away a sack of money. Deep within his heart, he knows that he should have turned down the apprenticeship or run off to the North to study giants or gone and become a chemist or a zookeeper or any one of a thousand other things. Maybe having someone else around the shop will be good for him after all. He is far too trusting, too gullible, his father would have argued. Perhaps the old man has been right about him after all.

Suddenly, Ollivander’s lunch seems less than appealing. His fingers itch to get back to their work, to prove themselves ready for this task. Silently, he packs his food away, wondering what tomorrow will be like.

***


To Ollivander’s great surprise, she shows up again the next morning.

He is stacking freshly-made wands into a little blank space up on one of the towering shelves that line the front room. Thus, his back is to the door and when he hears the little bell on the handle clang cheerfully, he is snappish.

“We aren’t open for another hour and a quarter. Go away.”

It isn’t that Ollivander doesn’t enjoy dealing with customers (although he doesn’t), it’s simply that he has very important things he should be doing and shooing away early shoppers is not one of them.

He turns only out of vague curiosity and nearly stumbles down the last few steps of the ladder when he sees her hovering uncertainly by the door.

“Oh, it’s you.”

She nods, then stands a little straighter, as if presenting herself for his approval. The robes she wears certainly cannot be mistaken for fashionable, but they’re a far cry from her outfit yesterday. They’re also clean and fit properly, so Ollivander isn’t about to complain. She fits now, he realizes. Her magic is more directed and focused, as though she believes she is a witch. Of course, she is still young and rather homely, but Ollivander finds it an intriguing sort of homeliness, the sort where something is clearly not beautiful but one cannot put one’s finger on exactly what makes it so.

With a start, she reaches into the depths of her pocket and emerges with the sack of coins he had given her. Ollivander stares dumbly at it.

“Don’t you want it back?” she asks. “There’s plenty left.”

It is almost enough to make him feel guilty for doubting her. He wonders whether he assumed she would not return because he himself would do the same in her place. It’s a rather self-deprecating thought, and he dismisses it. Instead, he takes the bag from her.

“I suppose you can start with the inventory. Whole place is an absolute mess. My father didn’t keep records and it’s been a nightmare trying to set it all straight.”

“I do understand that. Fathers are difficult that way, aren’t they?” Her tentative smile tells Ollivander that she understands far more than he might have otherwise realized. At least he’s not the only one who feels that way, he reasons. Fathers are universally bothersome, it seems.

And with that, she sets to work digging through the precarious stacks of wand boxes, pausing often at first and then with decreasing frequency to ask what sorts of wood she’s looking at. She really is catching on quickly and Ollivander begins to wonder just what sort of an asset he may have hired for himself.

They break for lunch a bit earlier than he would have had he been eating alone and he realizes that Merope hasn’t brought any food. He wonders briefly whether to offer her money to get some food at the Leaky Cauldron, but decides against it. There’s more than enough in his lunch for two. After all, it is the slow season, wand-wise. His funds are a bit tight as well.

She thanks him quietly but without embarrassment for his generosity.

“I’ll be sure to bring something with me tomorrow. I wasn’t sure I’d get a break.” She smiles. “I made Tom a nice roast last night, I expect it’ll be good for another few days.”

“Tom’s your husband, then?”

Merope nods. “Tom Riddle.”

“Seems a good, strong name to me.” Ollivander isn’t certain what else to say. He worries the pages of Bathilda Bagshot absently. The book has been sitting on the counter since yesterday, forgotten until now.

“Were you planning on reading during lunch? I could go, if you’d like…” She gets to her feet nervously.

“What?” Ollivander asks, not realizing what his fingers have been up to. “Oh, no, no. Just fidgeting, I’m afraid. Bathilda Bagshot’s newest book on the Goblin Wars.”

He has to admire Merope’s attempt at an understanding smile, but she fails miserably, looking more like she’s sick to her stomach.

“You haven’t heard of it?” he asks with what he hopes is a sympathetic smile.

She shakes her head.

“We lived in the country. Never got big magical news or anything like that, not even about wars, I suppose.” She shrugs and Ollivander’s jaw hangs slack.

“You mean you’ve never heard of the Goblin Wars?” It’s absolutely impossible. Even Lycoris Black, who Ollivander had decided years ago was undoubtedly the thickest person he had ever met, had learned enough in Binn’s class to recognize the Goblin Wars.

She pops a grape into her mouth and stares blankly at him. “My dad never saw much good in learning about non-wizards.”

“What, so you skipped an entire term of History of Magic then?”

A look of apprehension dawns and Merope begins shaking her head vigorously.

“Never went to school.”

“You, you never went to school?” Ollivander doesn’t know if he’s ever been personally acquainted with someone who’s not been to school. It’s rather like seeing a dinosaur or a Crumple-Horned Snorkack sitting across from him, peeling a grape.

“Dad didn’t see a point, thought he could teach us everything worth knowing.”

“That’s absurd. No one can do that. That’s why they make schools.”

“Oh, I agree. Didn’t work well at all.”

Ollivander frowns, wondering whether he’s offended her, but she sits happily tearing the crust off of her slice of bread. “You seem all right enough though…”

She shrugs. “I’m not all very smart. My dad thought I was a squib for years, but I showed him, didn’t I? Besides, you should see my brother. Living proof that any old idiot can work a wand.”

“Now that I do understand. You should see some of the folks that come in here, looking for wands. Absolutely hopeless. Makes me sad to give them anything at all. Wands can sense that sort of thing, you know.”

Merope bites her lip. “Wands can tell if you’re shit at magic?”

Ollivander is surprised to hear her curse, but he finds that it fits, somehow.

“They can tell if you’re hesitant. If you think you’re shit, the wand does too and then you very well may be. Of course some people really just are shit at it.”

She laughs softly. “That sounds like Morfin. You know so much about wands. It must be wonderful knowing all that. I’d love to be good at something.”

“I must confess, I’ve never thought of it that way. My father was a wandmaker, I never had any other option in life but to be one.”

A strange, wild look comes over her face, bringing an edge to her typically soft features.

“What?” he asks.

“It’s just, you say that about your father. I don’t know you that well, but you can’t live your life for him. No one can.”

She looks haunted, a shadow of herself in that moment and Ollivander wonders for the first time what she’s hiding. Everyone has secrets, that he knows, but there is something that runs deep with this woman, something that he wants to know for no reason that he can possibly name.

He is surprised by this sudden depth of curiosity and sits still for a moment.

“I’m sorry, I’ve offended you. Stupid,” she berates herself.

“No, don’t apologize. I was just thinking. You’re quite right. I considered running away when I first graduated Hogwarts, but I couldn’t bring myself to. This shop meant so much to him that I couldn’t let it go to waste.”

“What did you want to do before that?”

“You’ll think me dull…but a historian. I took NEWT level History of Magic and couldn’t get enough of it. My father said it wasn’t a practical career choice.” He shrugs, knowing that it’s a true statement. “Perhaps that’s why I find wandlore so fascinating.”

Merope looks curiously at him. “What’s that?”

“I suppose it’s some combination of the history of wandmaking and the theory behind it. Intrinsic, wandless magic, personal magic, the whole wand-choosing-the-wizard business. Wands are so much more than what I make back there.” He gestures to the workroom.

He looks up to find Merope smiling at him and nodding.

“You understand?”

“Potions. That’s why I like potions. Make them wrong and it’s all a jumble of ingredients. Do it properly and they can do all sorts of things.”

“I was never much for potions, but I can see your point.”

In the lull that follows, Ollivander finds that he wants to keep talking. It is time to get back to work, though, and he begins to pack the rubbish away. Merope helps him, wordlessly working alongside him. Ollivander gets the sense that she’s used to doing this sort of work, taking care of someone.

The rest of the afternoon goes quickly. They have no customers and Ollivander is taken by surprise when the light outside begins to dim. The pair of them pack away their work from the day and Ollivander walks Merope to the door and watches her disappear into the twilight.

For the first time, as Ollivander turns around to face his empty shop, he feels alone.

***


Over the course of the next month, things work well, better than Ollivander could have anticipated. Merope works steadily and determinedly through the store’s stock, measuring and testing and recording until Ollivander has a detailed, tidy list of wands.

As they work, they take to chatting aimlessly, their conversations meandering through an array of topics. They lunch together daily then continue with their separate tasks, always aware of the other’s presence.

Sometimes, Merope will listen quietly as Ollivander rants and raves over Bathilda Bagshot. Others, he will listen as she discusses her plans for dinner or some joke her husband has told her. Ollivander begins to feel that he knows Tom Riddle, despite the fact that he’s never met the man, and he finds he cannot imagine the man he pictures with Merope. He has never been in love, though, and wonders if perhaps that is the root of his problem.

As January draws to a close, Ollivander’s thoughts turn to February. There is to be a celebration on the first of the month, Bride’s Day, hosted by one of the more questionable shops on the Alley. It isn’t a holiday Ollivander can remember having celebrated, but it’s an excuse for all the shopholders to blow off a bit of steam and he can’t fault anyone for that.

As she leaves one evening, Ollivander invites Merope, hardly even realizing that he will have to extend his invitation to Tom as well. Once the thought occurs to him, he nearly kicks himself for having done so. But, she accepts with the fervor of a student, and Ollivander finds himself nervously anticipating the evening.

Finally, the first of the month arrives and Ollivander stands before his mirror, tugging at the dress robes he’s had little occasion to wear since he bought them. His hair is sticking out at angles and the svelte, tailored robes only makes it worse.

He prods his nose with a long finger, wondering whether it makes him look too old, but then scolds himself for preening. He’s not cared how he looks for anyone before and this is no time to start.

He sighs and there is a little niggle of…something playing around in his mind. Doubt, perhaps, that his concern for his appearance is entirely unrelated to his new assistant. A touch of excitement, perhaps, that terrifyingly sweet feeling of interest in another person. He knows it’s a terrible idea and that she is married and wouldn’t possibly be interested in him, but it feels so good that he cannot help letting the feeling persist. Perhaps he is a romantic at heart.

Ollivander knows he should stop this now, but cannot bring himself to do so. He will get hurt, of this he is certain. But he has been so empty and alone for so long that this slight emotional tie feels foreign and wonderful. It is a little knot, freshly tied in his mind that his thoughts cannot help worrying over throughout the day.

With a small smile, he runs his fingers through his hair one last time and slips out the door, down the back stairs of his flat, and into the street.

The unseasonably warm January has given way to a practically balmy February and there is hardly a chill in the air at all. The Alley itself is a wonderland, fairy lights and huge floating lanterns hanging above the partygoers’ heads. Ollivander feels more that he is at a street bazaar than a party and the effect is dizzying.

He weaves through the crowd, not realizing he’s searching for anything until he spots Merope leaning against a street lamp. Even bathed in the light like that, she blends into the scenery. The man next to her, however, is quite the opposite. He stands out even in shadow. This must be Tom Riddle, Ollivander realizes. He is tall and handsome and has a perfect nose and wonderfully smooth hair and is everything Merope has ever described him as.

Ollivander hates the man immediately.

Merope catches his eye and smiles, pushing away from the post.

“Ollivander! I’d begun to think you weren’t going to show after all. Come meet Tom.”

She holds a hand out to him and grabs his upper arm, gently steering him into the light. Tom Riddle smiles blandly at him, amiably enough, but with little interest. Instead, his eyes are on Merope.

“Nice to meet you, old chap. Merope’s told me all about you. I must say, it’s good to have a face to put with the name. I can’t thank you enough for getting her that job. We’ve had a frightful time making ends meet since we left the country.” Tom’s hand is large and rather cold in Ollivander’s as they shake briefly.

“Well, yes. She’s…quite handy to have around.” Ollivander is at a loss for words. For as much as he has heard Merope talk about Tom, the fact that the man actually exists is odd to fathom.

Merope slips away to get drinks for the three of them, leaving Ollivander standing next to Tom. The other man’s eyes don’t leave Merope until they absolutely must.

“She’s a great catch, hmm?” he asks Ollivander. “Still can’t believe I’m married sometimes. You know, I’d never noticed her before. Her father was sort of the village idiot, mine was the Lord of the Manor. Sounds a bit like a fairytale, don’t you think?”

Ollivander doubts the young man wants an answer so he doesn’t bother giving one. He doesn’t mention that it’s not the prince who dreams of having a fairytale romance, it’s the cinder girl. Princes dream of marrying a princess. And, fond as he is of her, Ollivander knows that Merope is no princess.

She returns shortly with drinks, sparing Ollivander from any more discussion. A few couples have begun dancing and Tom whisks Merope away by the hand. Even in his Muggle clothing, he doesn't seem out of place and it makes his wife even duller by comparison and Ollivander dislikes him all the more for it. The pair of them draws attention, in magnitudes neither his attractiveness nor her plainness would do alone.

Ollivander can see the thrill and discomfort playing across her face in turns. She is as unused to this kind of attention as Tom is used to it, it seems, and Ollivander cannot help but wonder just how this match came about.

He feels every bit the dirty old man standing there watching them (although, he reminds himself, he is hardly old at all) but finds he cannot help it. He wonders what their life is truly like, whether Tom listens to her when she is frustrated or understands, truly understands, when she talks about her father. Does Tom know what she thinks about when she goes oddly quiet and gets a faraway look in her eyes? Why she still flinches when someone turns towards her a bit too quickly? Does he notice?

Ollivander doesn't know these all these things, wouldn't waste his time pretending that he does, but he wonders if Tom even notices them. For as much as the other man watches Merope, Ollivander gets the distinct impression that he doesn't actually see her.

Tom spins Merope and dips her and when he rights her again, she catches Ollivander's eye and smiles. Ollivander returns the smile then frowns when she looks away. He catches her doing that on occasion and has no idea what to make of it.

A tiny part of him, his inner romantic, wonders whether she is interested in him too. She certainly seems to be, but then the conversation will turn to her husband and Ollivander will be simultaneously reminded that she is a married woman and that she is smitten with her husband. Who wouldn't be, after all? He almost envies her that certainty. She is so young, but so convinced that Tom is right for her. Ollivander has never been certain of anything in his life.

The song ends and Merope and Tom rejoin him, slightly flushed and out of breath. The three of them sit at a table and chat for a while and, as the drinks begin to take effect, Tom's hands begin to wander. One comes to rest on Merope's knee, gently squeezing and the other pulling her close to him. He has little to offer to the conversation, instead choosing to nuzzle Merope's neck. She tries half-heartedly to push him off, but he is persistent. Her disbelief that this is her life is tangible, as is her excitement.

As he watches, Ollivander resigns himself to the fact that his feelings for her are hopeless and lets them go. It's surprisingly easy, he finds. All he has to do is tell himself that he simply cannot feel that way and all is fine. He dances once with Merope-just as friends, of course- and once with Xanthia Malkin. The old bat steps on his toes, but Ollivander has always been fond enough of her devil-may-care attitude that he hardly even jumps when she pinches his rear during a waltz.

As the night is drawing to a close, Ollivander scans the thinning crowd for Tom and Merope. He has finished repairing her wand and wants to give it to her before she leaves. After a few minutes of searching, he spots the pair of them slinking off hand in hand.

They slip down a side alley and Ollivander jogs after them, not wanting to interrupt but not wanting to wait any longer to give her his handiwork. He is halfway down the alley and sees sparks flying ahead of him before he realizes that they have turned down Knockturn Alley.

In the darkness, he makes out a shape on the ground, Tom, he realizes, unconscious. His ears are ringing and his whole body pulses, each heartbeat amplified by adrenaline. Merope is against a wall, her attacker's wand at her throat as he rummages through her pockets.

Ollivander lets Merope’s repaired wand slide from his coat sleeve and crosses in a few lanky strides. Though he has never been one for spellwork, it is all he can do to keep from letting several nasty curses fly. As it is, he grabs the attacker’s grubby chin in his hand, registering with great relish the confused panic in the other man’s eyes, and presses the wand tip to the ruffian’s cheek.

“Let go of her.”

The grubby little man drops his wand immediately and Merope runs to Tom. Ollivander releases him roughly and stupefies him, reaching down and picking up the other man’s wand. He knows what he has to do and, with some degree of relief that he sees the wand is a Gregorovitch, he snaps the wand cleanly in two, a bit of veela hair poking from the split.

Ollivander is shaking as he kneels next to Merope.

“Are you alright?”

She nods, averting her eyes and fussing with Tom’s jacket lapels.

“We must have made a wrong turn, gotten confused. Next thing I knew, he was following us, calling Tom a filthy Muggle. Of course Tom doesn’t know what that means. I tried to get him to run, but…” She shakes her head. “Help me get him up?”

Ollivander levitates Tom and manages to get him standing upright, arms draped over his and Merope’s shoulders.

“It’ll cause less of a commotion if we pretend he’s had too much to drink.” Merope nods as much as Tom’s weight allows her to. “We’ll take him to the shop, you two can stay there tonight, if you’d like. I’ve a spare room upstairs.”

“Thank you,” she whispers and they stagger forward.

With difficulty, they reach the shop and Ollivander transfers Tom’s full weight to Merope while he fumbles in his pocket for the front door key. In a moment, he has found it and they hoist the unconscious man inside and up to the second storey.

They settle Tom onto Ollivander’s spare guest bed, checking to be sure that he has in fact only been stupefied, before they head to the kitchen. Ollivander fills two cups with tea and adds a healthy helping of firewhiskey to each.

Silently, they sit at the roughly hewn table, mugs warming their shaking fingers until finally Ollivander slides Merope’s wand over to her.

She rolls the uneven twig, for it is really little more than that, between her palms for a moment before setting it on the table.

“It feels strange, now, after having seen so many real ones.”

Ollivander nods.

“I’m fairly certain that the only reason it works is that it was made for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Making a wand specifically for someone is quite a powerful thing. It gives the wand a special brand of magic, I think.”

Merope eyes the wand out of the corner of her eye. “Dad never did know how to do anything right.”

Hesitantly, Ollivander asks the question he’s been wanting to for some time.
“What happened to him?”

Bitterly, Merope shrugs. “Azkaban. He was never any good. I’m surprised he wasn’t there ages ago. If I’d have known how much better things were going to be when he was gone I might’ve reported him myself years ago, the bigot.” She sighs then continues. “That’s not true. I never would have done.”

“It doesn’t sound as though you resent him. I don’t think I could think well of a father who deprived me of so much.”

“He did the best he could. Besides, I was never any good at magic growing up. Might’ve been his fault, of course, but he couldn’t have anyone seeing what sort of daughter he had.”

Her fingers close over the pendant hanging around her neck. Ollivander has noticed it before, but never has she displayed it so much as she has tonight, hanging it over her robes instead of inside. She downs the rest of her mug in one sip and gets to her feet.

She wavers for a moment before walking to Ollivander and sliding a hand behind his neck. The adrenaline has returned to his body in full force and his heart pounds perhaps faster than it had earlier in Knockturn Alley. He watches as her gaze dips from his eyes to his mouth and back. Finally, she leans in and presses her lips to his, gently, hesitantly moving them in encouragement. They are slightly chapped but Ollivander can feel the smoothness beneath the rough bits and cannot help but respond, his spirits soaring as he does so.

Just as he is about to reach for her, she pulls away, panting slightly, a terrified, expression in her eyes. She rubs a hand across her mouth and turns away from him, leaving him slackjawed in his chair.

Groaning, Ollivander slumps back in his seat. So she does want him. And damned if he doesn’t still want her. He closes his eyes, wishing he had pushed her away, had responded more forcefully, had done something other than what he has.

With a deep breath, he opens his eyes and sees that she has left her repaired wand on the table. He grabs it gently and slides it into his pocket. There are very few things he is able to do now, but he must do something.

He is going to make her a wand.

***


He begins the very next day, Merope’s day off, or at least he intends to until he realizes that he’s entirely out of potion to treat the wood before he begins. He’s going to have to make a trip to Pokeby and Spores for supplies.

The weather has unexpectedly turned chilly in the wee hourse of the morning and, with Merope and Tom having returned to their little cottage before Ollivander rose, last night seems years away. Were it not for the lingering scent of burned incense and basil in the air and the few scraps of decoration littering the gutters, he might have convinced himself that last night was nothing more than a dream.

The apothecary is a good walk down the Alley from Ollivander’s and he is chilled through by the time he gets there. A brief glance around the shop alerts Ollivander to the fact that he’s going to have to go elsewhere for the Billywig spines and he sighs discontentedly. The only other potions supply likely to have them is down Knockturn Alley and that is a venture he’s not keen on making again. But, it must be done. He gathers his ingredients together and pays quickly, ready to get to work as soon as possible.

Rather than using the same entrance as last night, Ollivander takes the back route into Knockturn Alley. It is seedier but has the benefit of allowing him to wonder whether the fellow from the previous evening is still lying in the street unconscious rather than knowing for a fact.

Pulling his cloak around him, he slides surreptitiously into the potions shop. Ollivander has found that, in dealing with places such as this, it attracts less attention when one appears to be up to something. As soon as he enters, he is unwittingly eavesdropping on the clerk’s conversation.

“Got the order right here, miss. Same as last time, eh?”

The woman across from him nods and Ollivander can feel her disquietude. She wants to be out of here as quickly as possible.

“Please, can you just wrap it? I’ve got somewhere to be.”

His curiosity getting the best of him, Ollivander cranes his neck within his hood to see what she’s purchasing. Ashwinder eggs, Belladonna, scorpion bile, and a few others. Ollivander recognizes them almost immediately: some poor sap is going to be fed a love potion. He will never understand witches, he decides.

He is about to turn down a side aisle to gather his Billywigs when the witch turns with her freshly wrapped and purchased parcel and runs straight into his chest.

“Oh, I’m sor-“

Ollivander is able to do little more than simply look at her. He is absolutely correct. He will never understand witches, nor is he sure that he wants to anymore.

Merope clutches the package tightly to her chest, either unable or unwilling to meet Ollivander’s eyes. Understanding hangs between them. He knows what she has in the brown paper wrapping, knows her secret, and she is fully aware that he knows.

The silence lasts a moment longer than it should and suddenly, Merope darts past him and out the door. Ollivander hesitates only a moment before following her. He catches sight of her only a short ways down the crooked street, easily spotted amongst the sparse, early morning crowd.

“Merope!” he shouts to get her attention. She turns to face him. “I’ll see you tomorrow at work, then?”

It’s not the most eloquent of statements, but it gets the point across: he doesn’t want this to be the end of things.

She nods briefly, almost imperceptibly, and then rushes off.

Ollivander stands outside for a minute or so, unsure of exactly what to do now.

Eventually, he goes back into the store to buy his Billywigs.

“Hope that wasn’t your girl,” the shopkeeper leers. “Nasty shock that’d be.”

“Yes, it would.”

He needs time to think, but he isn’t certain that he’s ready for that just yet.

In fact, he doesn’t give himself the chance until several hours later, once he has made his potion and the wood is soaking. He has decided on the yew for Merope. It is, perhaps, a somewhat morbid choice, the Tree of Death, but he as he stands before his stock room and thinks of her, it calls to him. He is drawn to the twisted, gnarled branch.

Steam curls from the cauldron before him, flowing over the bronze rim and dissipating. He leans forward in his chair, elbows on his knees and his sighs disrupt the current of fog. His apron crinkles as he does so and he tosses his work goggles across the room. They have left sweaty rings around his eyes and the fresh air feels foreign against the tender skin.

To the outside observer, he imagines, he looks at ease, relaxing after a long morning of work, but he is far from relaxed.

Merope has been using a love potion on Tom. Simultaneously, everything makes sense and has become so much more confused. He doesn’t even know where to begin. It is as though the woman he has known does not exist anymore. He could never have imagined her capable of such a level of deception. At the same time, he cannot believe that the woman he has come to care for has been a lie. Meshing the two women together though is a sizeable task.

Out of nowhere, her voice rings out in his mind: That’s why I like potions. Make them wrong and it’s all a jumble of ingredients. Do it properly and they can do all sorts of things. She’s all but told him already. He’s had the pieces all along.

He supposes it’s logical. Tom’s behavior is clearly that of a bespelled man. It is no wonder he doesn’t truly notice Merope. He is infatuated and infatuation needs very little substance. As for Merope’s part, her lack of confidence is patently obvious. From what Ollivander has heard of her home life, he is not necessarily surprised that she would have gone to such great lengths to gain some semblance of affection, of love, even false love.

What Ollivander does not understand is how he fits into the picture. Perhaps it’s self-centered of him to assume that he does at all, but after that kiss…. No, he cannot accept that Merope does not have feelings for him. Surely true affection from himself is better than false affection from a man like Tom.

There is a part of Ollivander that is almost hopeful at the turn of events. It means that Tom is not truly his competition. If not for Merope’s interference, Ollivander doubts that Tom would stay around. Of course this also means that Merope is in love with Tom enough to keep him with her against his will, which leaves Ollivander very little hope indeed.

Ollivander sighs and gets to his feet, mussing his hair in frustration. This situation has gotten quickly out of hand. He has gone from denying that his feelings for her exist at all to considering her husband competition. Merope is happy with Tom. There is certainly no reason for her to change a status quo that works well. What Ollivander needs to do is let it go, to forget his feelings for her and move one.

Oh, but he wants her. Desperately.

He scrubs his palms over his face and sighs, every bit the angsting, love-sick teenager he feels he’s being. Perhaps everyone is destined to go through this sort of ordeal at least once in their lives. Ollivander can feel it even now. He is not going to give up on Merope, no matter how badly he knows it will turn out. Even as he tells himself he should let her go, his mind is thinking about her wand, searching out the perfect design, the most suitable core material. He is going to get burned but he cannot pull away from the flame. It is, he supposes, inevitable.

***


Merope comes in the next morning while Ollivander is at the wand corer. He does not hear her over the whirring of the machinery, but when he finishes boring through the long, slender yew branch she is standing patiently next to him.

“I’ve never actually watched you do this before,” she says, reaching out a hand to spin one of the now-still gears. “It’s sort of like you’re dancing with the wood, you know?”

Ollivander stares blankly at her. He doesn’t know at all.

“You must notice. You sort of…” She gestures, skipping around in imitation of the practiced motions he employs to drill.

Ollivander frowns at her.

“You look like a deranged octopus.”

Merope gives him a pointed look that plainly says ‘so do you’. Ollivander is perplexed by her behavior. She acts as though nothing at all has happened, as though Ollivander has no idea that she has been slipping her husband a love potion in his morning tea.

“Will you teach me?” she asks, both her eyes focusing on him.

Ollivander turns his back to her and scans the branches he has treated. He plucks a piece of holly from the table and proffers it at her.

She takes it uncertainly and steps towards the corer. Ollivander hesitates only a moment before dropping to his knees and placing her foot on the pedal that powers the drill. Gently, she presses down on it with the toe of her shoe and laughs as the gears whiz against one another.

“What now?”

Ollivander comes up behind her and places his hands over her, resting the tip of the wood in the device. She glances uncertainly at him. She doesn’t wear perfume, he realizes, and he loves the freshness of her.

That won’t do at all.

He shakes his head slightly and re-focuses on the task at hand. Merope has engaged the gears again and Ollivander helps her guide the holly into the correct position. As the wood engages the drill bit, Ollivander’s fingers begin to buzz.

“It tickles.”

With a nod, Ollivander shows her how to guide the holly back and forth across the drill, slowly eating a little tunnel through the center of the wood. It’s somewhat arousing, Ollivander finds, between their rhythmic motions and the vibration of the wood. He refuses to consider that the woman he has his arms around has anything to do with the sensations at all, for how could he possibly still be attracted to her after all that he knows, but a shimmer of want passes over his bared forearms where they touch hers and he knows he is fighting a losing battle.

Within the circle of his arms, Merope is hardly breathing, hardly moving. Ollivander wonders if she feels it too, the bubbling layer of…something that flows between them.
In an effort to control himself, he focuses on the wand, letting it draw all his attention. Back and forth and back and forth until finally the drill bit pierces the last plug of wood at the wand’s back end. The bit twists for a moment before Merope gently lifts her foot from the pedal and it twirls to a halt.

Though the vibration is gone, Ollivander’s entire body pulses, feeling overly sensitive and numb in turns. Merope’s fingers loosen on the holly and her thumb runs along his. She turns to face him, expression unreadable.

Ollivander knows he should let go of her, back up, and find something to busy himself with, but he cannot. Anticipation fizzles in the pit of his stomach. He knows where this is heading and it is a mistake, that he knows surely. But he also finds that it is a mistake he wants to make. He wants to complicate things, to make his life messy, to commit an indiscretion such as this. More than that, he wants Merope.

He drops his hands to her waist and kisses her fiercely.

***


It is nearly noon when Ollivander wakes up to find himself in bed alone. His stomach clenches, a wave of anger and disappointment settling over him. He had thought she would at least stay, but it seems she too has had some second thoughts.

He rolls over, sheets pooling at his waist and sighs when he sees her standing at the window wearing his bathrobe. The green fabric is so threadbare that he can see her shoulder beneath it but she seems not to care.

Softly, he clears his throat and she turns.

“I wondered when you were going to get up. Thought about waking you, but I didn’t,” she says, sitting at the foot of the bed.

“Obviously.” Ollivander doesn’t mean to be so terse, but he cannot think of anything more to say. Finally he settles on “Merope, I’m…very confused.”

She drops her gaze and worries at the sash of the robe.

“I suppose that’s understandable.”

“Care to elucidate?”

“I don’t know I can. I’m just…I don’t know. I love Tom.”

Ollivander’s jaw clenches. He doesn’t want to hear about Tom Riddle, not right now, but he supposes he must.

“You deserve someone who loves you.”

Merope shakes her head.

“I don’t, that’s just it. What sort of fellow wants a woman like me? Tom wouldn’t have looked twice at me otherwise. I love him,” she says, as though that explains everything.

“If a man doesn’t want a woman like you it’s only because you’ve made yourself that way. Love potions? That’s dangerous business.”

“I love him,” she insists. It occurs to Ollivander that she’s trying to convince herself as well as him.

“Has anyone ever loved you?” Ollivander asks. “Surely you wouldn’t turn down the chance for someone who truly cares in favor of a sham of a marriage.”

Her eyes flash at him.

“It isn’t a sham!” She sighs. “I’m confused now. I never thought I would care about someone else like I do Tom.”

“Merope you’re young. Perhaps Tom is a youthful fancy and nothing more. You needn’t be short-sighted about this. If you have to coerce him, is it worth it?”

“Yes…. I don’t know now. Everything’s changed. I…I care about you and I don’t know what to do with that.”

“You’ve said that.”

In some twisted way, Ollivander understands. He knows that yearning for someone to care about, to care for you. Ollivander is a kink in Merope’s perfect life, one she didn’t expect. She has ensured that Tom would always be there for her but has neglected the possibility that she would outgrow him, would want something more real.

Merope gets to her feet and turns her back to Ollivander, gathering her clothing and pulling it back on.

“Merope, please, I-“

“Can we just…let it be for a while? I need to think.”

Ollivander licks his lips, repressing a groan. This will not end well for him, he is certain of that, more certain than he has ever been before.

“Yes, all right.”

They go downstairs in silence. The afternoon is slow and dreary and there is a dark mood between them.

Ollivander makes good on his promise and within a few hours, he and Merope are both fitting their wands with cores, Phoenix feather. Ollivander has never used it before but he has a feeling it is going to work beautifully.

Merope is performing better than expected. Ollivander is still helping quite extensively, of course, but her wand shapes up to a nicely carved 11 inches. By the end of the day it is done. Ollivander will test its quality once she has gone and make adjustments as necessary, but he is quite pleased with the final product.

As Merope packs up her things and shrugs on her coat, Ollivander gives her some space. The last thing he wants to do is overwhelm her but his stomach churns at the thought of leaving things the way they are, even just for the night.

She hesitates at the front door, fussing overly much with the buttons on her coat and Ollivander approaches her.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

Merope nods and stretches up on her toes to kiss him softly. When she pulls away there is a sadness in her eyes that makes Ollivander’s chest tighted and he clenches his jaw against the emotion.

“If he were left to his own devices, do you think he would stay?” he asks, wishing immediately that he hadn’t.

She sighs and pats her gloved hand on his chest before turning and slipping out the door.

Ollivander leans heavily against the door, reaching over his head to flip his “open” sign to read “closed”.

The next day, Merope is more nervous than usual, somewhat haggard looking, but Ollivander says nothing. He is resolved to leave the situation in her purview.

She does not kiss Ollivander goodbye that night as she leaves and Ollivander has no way of knowing at the time that the glimpse he will catch of her rushing by the next morning in the cold, falling slush is the last time he will see her.

***


“Where did she go?” Luna asked, wide eyes fixed on Ollivander.

“I did not know at the time, or for quite some time afterwards. Even to this day, I have only speculation, but I believe she stopped giving Tom the potion and he rejected her. I do know that he left her and she left me.”

Ollivander’s voice was scratchy and hoarse from having spoken so long and there was a damp chill permeating the cellar that signaled nightfall.

“That’s awful. It really did seem as though she cared for you.”

“I like to think that she did. Change is a terribly frightening thing, though. She had spent so much of her life in pursuit of Tom Riddle that the possibility it was the wrong choice was too much for her to adapt to.”

Luna nodded and turned so that her back rested against the wall.

“I did not intend to worsen your spirits. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “I think it’s a beautiful story. Sometimes the best love stories are the ones without happy endings, don’t you think? They’re so real and passionate.”

“That is one way to look at it, I suppose.”

Ollivander couldn’t help but think that it was the opinion of a very young woman who hadn’t experienced a great deal of pain in her life, but perhaps that was a rather jaded position to take.

“So you never heard anything about her again?”

“That is not entirely true. I have managed to piece together much of the story on my own, but there was one incident…”

***


It is a bright, sunny day in August and Ollivander is testing a newly made batch of wands when his door opens. A gust of wind ushers in Albus Dumbledore followed by a stringy, gangly young man.

“Good day, Mr. Ollivander,” Dumbledore says, ushering the boy into the spindly chair against the shop window.

“Professor. What can I do for you?”

“We need to purchase young Tom here a wand. He’s due to start Hogwarts in the fall.”

“Of course, Professor. We’ll get started right away.”

Ollivander hardly pays the young man any notice at all, simply pulling out his tape measure and setting it to work. After reading the initial measurements and taking a quick glance at the boy, he pulls boxes off the shelves, stacking them haphazardly on the counter. He pauses before a lone box, long and slender. It’s not a box that he’s ever considered for anyone before, but for some reason he has an urge to pull it from the shelves and stack it amongst the others for this young boy.

Ollivander is just about to ignore his instinct when he notices the boy standing at his elbow. He stretches out one of his hands, so much the hand of a child, and touches the box.

“Could I try this one?”

And for the first time, Ollivander looks at his young patron, really looks at him. It takes all the effort Ollivander has to keep from staring. The young boy is very much the spitting image of the man Ollivander can only assume is his father.

“What did you say your name was, boy?”

The child meets Ollivander’s gaze. Though his hands are young his eyes seem older than Ollivander’s, sharp and piercing.

“Tom Riddle, sir.”

Ollivander bites his lip and glances over at Dumbledore. Something must have gone wrong somewhere along the way. He had suspected as much, but seeing the evidence before him is nearly too much.

“Your parents aren’t with you today, Tom?”

“No, sir. They’re dead.” Tom says this without any emotion, simply as though stating a fact.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure Professor Dumbledore will get you all taken care of, though. In the meantime, let’s get you a wand, shall we?”

The process of fitting a student for a wand is so familiar to Ollivander that he is able to let his thoughts roam while working. Tom tries wand after wand until only one box remains. Ollivander finds himself hoping that it too will not suit.

But, as he draws the long piece of yew from the carton and hands it to Tom, the magic in the room shifts, humming its approval. Tom gives it a little wave and a spray of sparks shoots from the tip.

“How very interesting. I believe this will suit you quite well, Mr. Riddle.”

“Congratulations, Tom,” Dumbledore adds, clapping the boy on the back.

Tom has a glint in his eye as he holds the wand. Ollivander has the insane urge to rip the wand back and never let it go. It is the last bit of Merope he has left and he is so much more unwilling to let it go than he could have imagined.

But, this young boy is her son who also has nothing of her. Ollivander at least has memories, he supposes. It is little comfort, but it enables him to let the wand walk out of the door.

***


While Shell Cottage wasn’t home, Ollivander had become comfortable there in the last months. His recovery had been slow, but the healer who visited on occasion assured him that he was indeed making progress. Ollivander wasn’t sure that he believed that, but he had reached the point where he hardly cared. He could feel his body beginning to shut down and he was determined to finish what he had started before it did.

His wandmaking equipment was stored in the shed just down the hill from the cottage but Ollivander had begun working on something a bit more special.

Ever since Malfoy Manor, Merope had been on Ollivander’s mind. He had never been one for regrets, but the more he thought about it, the more he began to realize that he needed to fix things. She had loved him, of that he was certain, even more so in retrospect than he had been at the time. Lately, Ollivander had been letting himself do something he had never allowed before, though: he had begun to imagine what his life could have been had things gone differently.

It was becoming a bit of an obsession, really. He had come to the conclusion that he had been all right right up until the end. It was that last day that he had made his mistake. He should have gone after her when he saw her rush past the shop rather than letting her go. He was positive that had he only let her know he was there for her that she would have stayed. She would have stayed and then she would have lived.

It had been one particularly difficult night when the idea had come to him: he could go back and fix it. He could modify a time travelling spell and fix everything… His rational side knew that it was next to impossible, that he was far more likely to do himself serious harm than to be successful, but he was perhaps becoming less and less rational as time wore on.

Over the coming weeks, he researched and experimented and finally was ready to try. That night, he straightened his things, folding his clothing neatly and tidying the bed linens. He had written a note and now he placed it in the center of the bed. Atop it, he set the wand he had made for Miss Lovegood, a parting gesture of gratitude. He was ready.

If all went according to plan, he would wind up back in his own body at the point in time he had selected. He would remember what he had done only briefly before fading completely into his former self. It was imperative that he get the timing right now, that he remember how important it was to stop Merope from running away.

He sat on the end of the bed, lifted his wand to his temple, closed his eyes, and whispered the incantation.

He didn’t open his eyes again until he felt cold radiating along his front. He exhaled in disbelief and the front window of his shop fogged from his breath. It had worked. His memory was fading quickly, slipping away from him as though it had been nothing more than a dream.

Merope passed quickly on the street and he had the faintest of feelings that he had to go after her, had to stop her, though he couldn’t quite remember why that was… At any rate, he pushed open the door.

“Merope!” he called, running a few steps out into the street. She turned to look at him, eyes red and puffy. “Come in? Have a cup of tea?”

She nodded slowly and followed him inside.





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